By: Jeremy Neisser
Did you know that active recovery is actually 10 times better for runners than stopping to catch a break?
That’s right, while it might be tempting to sit down or lie flat after an intense running regimen, it might actually do you more harm than good.
It’s for this reason and about a dozen more that interval running was born.
Benefits of Running Intervals for Runners
What is Interval Running?
Interval training, often known as interval running, is a form of interval exercise in which periods of high-intensity activity are followed by low-intensity rest or walking. These cycles allow for higher intensity levels within the workout while also reducing the overall total training time.
Simply put, interval running is a type of training that incorporates a series of short, high-intensity efforts that are followed by equally or longer moderate intensity recovery periods. Fitness levels are different for each person so your interval training might be different than others.
A high-intensity interval training session are typically workouts that are very similar to aerobic exercises and can really push your limits.
One common example of interval running would be running for about 2 minutes of hard, taking a 2-minute break and followed by 2 minutes of easy jogging to help you catch your breath.
This way, not only do you give your body some time to recover, but you also make the most of your runs. Interval running is a very prominent practice in training routines for all sorts of sports.
Below is an image of one of my actual runs that displays what an interval run should look like.
This was a little over 3.5-mile run. The white line indicates that for all four of my interval runs I ran them at a 6:47 pace.
The red in the graph shows after running the intervals I took a break running and then started again so the pace was significantly slower.
The technique of running intervals during my runs is very important and is part of my overall running goals. One of my goals was to run a 5K under 21 minutes, more on that in a moment.
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Without further delay, here are the 5 benefits of running intervals for 5K runners
The 5 Benefits of Running Intervals for Runners
1. Burns Calories for Hours
One of the most widespread motivations for runners is to lose a few extra pounds. For others, it might be as simple as staying in shape.
Running intervals allows you to burn calories at a much higher rate than you normally would with regular runs.
As a result of you burn more calories when your heart rate is up, according to Healthy Living.
Think of your body like a vehicle and the calories are your load. Moving that weight along will be much easier and more fuel efficient if you run continually as opposed to taking long breaks.
Running at intervals forces your body to constantly burn calories without having to overwork yourself. The only difference will be the rate of calories burned during both high and low-intensity intervals.
2. Boosts Endurance
Do many marathon runners train by running one or two more miles further than the actual race?
They do this to build their endurance for the real race. I always recommend to make your training runs or long runs on the weekends 5 miles or more.
By running slightly more miles than the actual race you will be able to handle the standard 5K miles more comfortably and I have the endurance to push your body a little further for when you see the finish line.
By extending the distance is not enough; you’ve got to do something more to get your pace up.
Running intervals allows you to build as much endurance as you will ever need. If you have the bad habit of running for hours and then calling it a day, it’s time to shake things up some.
According to Pop Sugar, By running intervals, you give your body a few minutes of intense running and then slow things down for a few moments.
This process of intense energy expenditure followed by adequate recovery sessions lets your body recover much faster than normal.
I also found that by simply setting my own custom intervals, I could run much further and way faster than before.
Both of which provide the perfect blend of long runs for endurance and interval runs to improve your speed.
3. Great for Your Heart
If you’re looking to guarantee a safe and robust future for your ticker, nothing helps it like running intervals.
We’ve seen how you build endurance, but how do you think you achieve this in the first place?
It doesn’t matter how intense or slow your intervals are; you won’t get far if your heart can’t pump enough oxygen through your body.
Harvard Medical School tells us that hitting that interval training to the max lets your heart, lungs and basically your entire body understand that things just got serious.
As runners, we’ve fooled our bodies into thinking that the only way to recover after intense activity is by relaxing and breathing in. Interval running shatters this misconception by forcing your entire circulatory system to adapt on the fly.
That’s right; the heart has to learn how to beat fast enough to supply the whole body with oxygen and expel the increasingly high levels of CO2.
Similarly, the related veins and arteries have to adapt to the increased demand for respiration by becoming more flexible.
Combined with all the calories burned, running intervals is by far one of the most efficient ways to get your heart in tip-top shape.
4. Saves you Time and Money
By now I’m sure you’ve started to see the benefits of running intervals as a way to save you time on your training and help you reach your goals faster. Running Intervals can also save you money.
Many Americans have gym membership. This membership offers amazing things that you may not be able to readily access such as weights and a treadmill.
The most unfortunate thing is that many gym goers do not make full use of your membership to it's potential. So instead of wasting your precious time and money, interval running can help cut your efforts in half.
Here's how it can save you money...
Instead of coming in to lift weights or run on a treadmill, training in intervals will let you make the most of your time and effort.
We all know that running intervals are more efficient, and I’m not just saying that.
Studies show that interval running lets you achieve better results in half the time of the average low-intensity workouts.
So instead of spending an hour or so at the gym doing low-intensity workouts like walking on the treadmill, interval training can cut that time in half and ultimately save you money.
And since all you just have to do is run, I’ve just saved your gym expenses and slashed your time by 50 percent. #winning.
5. You Earn your Rest Days
If you’re like me, you probably miss some workout days and end up feeling all guilty and disappointed with yourself.
Personally, I view each and every single day of my training as a position as a step closer to my goal. This means that one lost training day equals one day behind in my training.
But that’s until I discovered what the real reason for feeling guilty in the first place was.
See, with regular training and standard runs, you have to do it almost every single day.
Otherwise, your body will get left behind by the training schedule.
This is why most 5K runners still end up in the same positions even after months and months of training.
And if there’s any improvement, it’s usually just a few seconds or at most 30 seconds lower on your previous completion times.
But with interval running, the training schedule is a whole different ballgame.
When part of your training actually involves taking days off, you know that things just got serious.
Interval running is no easy task; your body needs more than ample recovery time that is actually factored in by professional marathon runners.
So while you are icing up your sore muscles, getting that tantalizing deep tissue massage or just laying around counting the days till your 5K, you can do so with the full knowledge that you earned each and every one of your rest days.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. How long should intervals be running?
The duration of the intervals should be 15 to 20 minutes. Always remember to allow your heart rate to naturally go down and be sure to cool down by walking it off; this is crucial for avoiding injuries.
2. How often should you run intervals?
If you're training for a race twice each week, or if you're not training for one, once a week is sufficient. Otherwise, you risk becoming burned out, tired, or injured as a result of overtraining. This will allow your body to recover between workouts.
3. Is it better to run in intervals?
Intense intervals improve your aerobic and anaerobic endurance, boost your VO2 max, and enhance your running performance. In addition, the muscular training stimulus is greater in the case of intense interval runs.
4. Can I run intervals everyday?
The acronym HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. Should you do HIIT every day? You should not do HIIT or any level of interval training every day. You should aim for about 30 minutes of cardio exercise each day to keep your body healthy.
5. Does Interval Running Burn Fat?
Interval training is a form of exercise that consists of alternating periods of intense activity with moments of rest. Research shows that interval training burns more fat and is more effective than steady-state cardio.
6. Beginner Runners: Interval Running Recommendations
- Do a 10-min jogging warmup.
- Run 30 secs at 75 percent of your intensity.
- Slowly jog for 30 secs at 25 percent of your intensity.
- Repeat for 5 cycles
Potential Drawbacks of Running Intervals
As with almost every type of workout, there are some limitations and drawbacks of switching up your routine with interval running.
I wouldn’t be a responsible mentor if I failed to point them out.
As a 5K runner who is also an avid believer in interval training, I have to agree with all the following drawback and limitations of running intervals.
1. Severe Muscle Soreness
I already broke down just how hard interval running is, and if you push yourself too hard, your muscles will push back.
Compared to consistent and even paced workout routines, muscles react differently to high-intensity interval training.
During interval running, the muscles produce a significant amount of waste that can really build up and cause intense levels of soreness.
In addition to being very painful, the soreness can graduate to fatigue which is very detrimental for any runner.
So make sure that you maintain a steady and comfortable pace while attempting interval running or any interval training of any sort.
Go too fast, and you might risk causing aggravated injuries and saying goodbye to a chance at that 5K.
Benefits of Running Intervals for Runners -
What more can I say, all the top benefits of running intervals for 5K runners are plain and clear for all to see. You can find more of those benefits here.
My recommendation for running intervals is to run them at 85-90% of your all out running.
If you get into the 100% area, it's nearly impossible to replicate that speed for you other interval runs. In addition, it's at a pace where your body needs more oxygen. Oxygen debt is a real thing and can be very uncomfortable for runners.
One last tip, last and perhaps most important tip. While the regimen may pack a ton of advantages, it’s not for everyone. Interval training is highly demanding, and people with heart problems, circulatory issues, and other health problems may find it difficult to take up.
Make sure you consult your doctor or a qualified trainer before attempting a broad range of interval running workouts such as those illustrated here.
Oh and I finally hit my goal of running a 5K under 21 minutes after a year of running and intervals.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Jeremy.
I have run over 250 races including the California International Marathon, Clarksburg Country Run, and various other 5K & 10K races throughout the United States. I am a former Athletics department employee at University of the Pacific and Shoe Consultant with Dicks Sporting Goods